Friday, December 23, 2011

Do 50% of Teachers Really Quit Within 5 Years?

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
I felt compelled to share the following analysis of the commonly quoted statistic that close to 50% of all teachers leave the profession within five years since I am guilty of using this quote without having checked the references myself. Matthew Di Carlo does a pretty good job with his analysis and does say many of the same things I have said in previous blog posts, but adds some interesting analyses and speculations about the true extent and significance of the problem. For example, even if the numbers really are close to 50%, is this dramatically different than other professions (some studies suggest it is not). He also draws attention to the fact that the majority of teachers are women and the likelihood that many are quitting to raise families. (I would counter, however, with the fact that many women professionals, like lawyers, doctors and scientists, postpone pregnancies, subcontract out childrearing to nannies, or choose not to have families, and that when weighing whether or when to have a family, working conditions and job satisfaction are important considerations).

The following was written by Matthew Di Carlo, Shanker Blog
You’ll often hear the argument that half or almost half of all beginning U.S. public school teachers leave the profession within five years.
The implications of this statistic are, of course, that we are losing a huge proportion of our new teachers, creating a “revolving door” of sorts, with teachers constantly leaving the profession and having to be replaced. This is costly, both financially (it is expensive to recruit and train new teachers) and in terms of productivity (we are losing teachers before they reach their peak effectiveness). And this doesn’t even include teachers who stay in the profession but switch schools and/or districts (i.e., teacher mobility).*
Needless to say, some attrition is inevitable, and not all of it is necessarily harmful, Many new teachers, like all workers, leave (or are dismissed) because they are just aren’t good at it – and, indeed, there is test-based evidence that novice leavers are, on average, less effective. But there are many other excellent teachers who exit due to working conditions or other negative factors that might be improved (for reviews of the literature on attrition/retention, see here and here).
So, the “almost half of new teachers leave within five years” statistic might serve as a useful diagnosis of the extent of the problem. As is so often the case, however, it’s rarely accompanied by a citation. Let’s quickly see where it comes from, how it might be interpreted, and, finally, take a look at some other relevant evidence.
The primary source for the claim seems to be analyses by respected University of Pennsylvania professor Richard Ingersoll (presented, among other places, in this 2003 report). Ingersoll uses data from the 2001-02 Teacher Follow-Up Survey (TFS). The TFS is a supplement to the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), a highly regarded national survey of teachers conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

To read the full article, please click here


  1. A lot of teachers are forced out or non-renewed or are outright fired in that timeframe. I expect the attrition rate to be much, much worse with more "reforms" being put in by the privatizers.

    A lot of us were wrongfully terminated and cannot get back in the profession because the economy is in the ditch and jobs are few or nonexistent.

  2. I suspect you're right, Susan.

    Something else that the 50% figure doesn't take into account and that Di Carlo mentions is that many teachers do quit, but get rehired in other districts. I was one of them.

    While this doesn't count as attrition from the profession, it does count as attrition from my former district, which I left for many of the reasons people leave the profession: a dysfunctional and dehumanizing district bureaucracy, low pay, and absurd reforms.

  3. Hi, some observations: If teachers were not part of a union, they'd have the choice to leave with a lot more money!! You'd instead have a defined contribution plan (e.g., 401K) and other retirement/benefit incentives that you could take with you. (I did in my last job, which was NOT UNIONIZED; I left with ~$500K total cash from several plans to which I and my employer contributed and I controlled, instead of selfish union bosses controlling the meager amount they deemed "appropriate.") In addition, you'd probably have also accumulated more personal wealth/savings/equity because you'd have earned more during that first 5 years (and beyond.) Please wake up and smell the so many union employees in various states that have voted for the FREEDOM to choose whether or not they belonged to a union, instead of giving millions of dollars in forced dues to union bosses, some of who earn ~$500K/year and are = gasp! - part of the "1%" they pretend to hate. Much of the rest of union money goes to Democrat candidates and causes, which only propagates the legacy of keeping workers in a state of dependency and contributing to Democrat coffers. And please don't bother to respond....I won't read this site again, but I wish you all the best in overcoming your adversity against the union powers. BTW, I don't belong to either the Dem or the Repub party, as I think both are lacking. I've also worked in too many jobs to list here, including a number of educator positions. I come from a family of professors, multi-generational and from several different countries. I am much older and experienced than the naive teachers that are leaving their profession after a short while; someday, I hope those young people have both the real-world education and experience to make wise choices in their profession and destiny.